What's on your bucket list? Post it on Before I Die Wall coming to Tampa, St. Pete

Soon, strollers down the Tampa Riverwalk will get to engage in a philosophical exercise that will force them to examine their lives more closely.

The vehicle for this moment of self-reflection is a wall with hundreds of stenciled sentences that begin with “Before I die I want to ___” Those who choose to participate, will fill in the blank with a piece of chalk.

The first Before I Die wall was created by public artist Cindy Chang on an abandoned house in her New Orleans neighborhood. For Chang, it was a way to deal with the loss of a loved one through an anonymous yet communal sharing of introspection.

After getting permission from the owner, she painted the outside with chalkboard paint and used a stencil with a grid of the sentence to be completed, “Before I die I want to …”

Chang’s wall filled up in a day. Some examples of what people wrote: sing for millions, plant a tree, hold her one more time, straddle the international dateline, see my daughter graduate, eat more of everything and be completely myself.

Chang posted photos online and the idea caught fire. Now, five years later, there are 1,000 Before I Die walls in 70 countries. 

Loran Tripp Jarrett, VP of Business Strategy at United Landmark Associates of Tampa, saw the original wall on a trip to New Orleans and the comments moved her. She wondered why Tampa didn’t have its version of Before I Die.

“Sometimes you need things to restore your faith in humanity,” Tripp Jarrett says, “and I think this is one of them.”

Art designed to provoke thought

As incoming president of her Leadership Tampa Bay class of 2016, Tripp Jarrett pitched the idea of doing the wall as the 2016 class project. Some of the members wondered if Before I Die was too morbid and could spark controversy. Tripp Jarrett disagreed and pressed on.

“It’s not supposed to be morbid; it’s supposed to provoke thought,” she says.

Once a majority of the class approved, Leadership Tampa Bay approached the city of Tampa. It turned out that a few years earlier, the city had purchased the Before I Die stencil and kit, provided by Chang for users. The kit cost about $200.

“Because this idea is so popular and so well-received, the artist would like it to be done in a certain way,” says Robin Nigh, manager of the city’s art programs.

Nigh says the wall will be a positive way for people to engage each other on the Riverwalk. But it also fulfills one of the reasons we embrace art: It makes us think.

“When you run into it, it just makes you kind of contemplate something else than the day-to-day,” Nigh says.

Leadership Tampa Bay got permission from Larry Feldman of Feldman Equities LLC to put the wall just off the Tampa Riverwalk on vacant land that was to be home to the failed Trump Tower Tampa. Feldman plans to build his own 52-story mixed-use tower on the site, so the Before I Die wall will only stay up until Jan. 31.

“We are excited to host the Before I Die wall at our riverfront site,” says CEO Feldman in a news release. “Public spaces like the Riverwalk are critical to a thriving downtown. Our new tower will be an integral part of the community and we are thrilled to partner with Leadership Tampa Bay on bringing this global initiative to Tampa.”

Some of the other companies and organizations that contributed to the project were Precision Painting Group, Friends of the Riverwalk, Home Depot, P&J Graphics, TRC Engineering, Baystage Live and MamaRazzi Foto.

Finding a permanent home

The wall will find a permanent home next year at the Tampa Armature Works, part of the larger neighborhood revival called The Heights. The residential-commercial development will mark the northern terminus of the Riverwalk.

The temporary wall will be 8 feet high and 40 feet long, says Todd Edwards, membership director of The Tampa Club and a member of this year’s Leadership Tampa Bay class. Class members worked Thursday and Friday building the wall, using 11 posts, 4-by-4-inch in circumference and 12 feet in length, and ¾-inch ply board. 

The wall will be unveiled Aug. 26 from 4:30-5:30 p.m., followed by a cocktails and hors d’ oeuvres reception at the Tampa Club from 5:45-8 p.m. To purchase tickets, follow this link.

Leadership Tampa Bay will also have a Before You Die wall at St. Petersburg’s Shine Mural Festival, which runs Sept. 1-10. The club broached the idea with John Collins, executive director of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, who was familiar with the history of the wall. 

Collins recommended it to the mural festival’s curators, who embraced it enthusiastically, he says. The wall will be one of several murals in the Shine Community exhibits, murals that directly engage the community, he says.

“Whatever art is, it engages the community,” Collins says. “This one not only engages a direct response and thought from the person who is looking at it, but they also leave their mark on it. I know when I personally read what people wrote, it gave me pause and a little bit of faith in humanity.”

The St. Petersburg Before I Die wall is tentatively scheduled for The Amsterdam bar, now closed, located on the corner of Central Avenue and 11th Street South, Collins says. 

Read more articles by Mike Salinero.

Mike Salinero is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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